Expanding the field: the Man Booker Prize to accept submissions from U.S. writers

September 15, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Man_Booker_Prize_logoIn news that is sure to shake up the literary establishment, The Telegraph is reporting that in 2014, for the first time in its history, the Man Booker Prize will accept submissions from American authors. Previously, the award has been restricted to English-language books published in the U.K. and written by authors from the U.K., Ireland, and the Commonwealth. The Man Booker International Prize, awarded every two years, considers writers from around the globe, and is given for a body of work rather than an individual book.

Quoting a report in the Sunday Times, the Telegraph indicates that Booker administrators found the exclusion of American writers “anachronistic,” and that considering them will help “ensure the award’s global reputation.”

Writing on the Literary Saloon, M.A. Orthofer suggests that the Booker administration might have been cowed by the appearance this year of the competing Folio Prize, which considers work by English-language writers worldwide. On its website, The Folio Prize bills itself as “the first major English language book prize open to writers from around the world. Its aim is simple: to celebrate the best fiction of our time, regardless of form or genre, and to bring it to the attention of as many readers as possible.” It will release its inaugural shortlist in February 2014.

The Booker rule change alters the landscape of the prize, which is considered one of the most prestigious literary awards in the English-speaking world, and is worth £50,000 to the winner. Even if publishers are restricted to two submissions, the relatively large number of books published in the U.S. will tend to crowd out those from other countries.

The change is sure to spark debate about the globalization of literary culture, and the utility of nationalist restrictions on prizes. In Canada, the three major prizes for fiction – the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award, and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Award – confine themselves to books written by Canadian citizens (even those, like Patrick DeWitt or Eleanor Catton, who have lived the majority of their lives outside Canada). The Griffin Poetry Prize is the only major Canadian literary award I’m aware of with an international component; arguments have been floated for folding the Canadian and International prizes together to bolster the award’s perceived legitimacy.

At least one dissenting voice has already been heard in Britain. Broadcaster Melvyn Bragg claims to be “disappointed” by the move, which he says will eradicate the Booker’s “distinctiveness.” He compared the new rules to “a British company being taken over by some worldwide conglomerate.”

This argument risks charges of xenophobia, but it would be ironic if, in an effort to be more inclusive, the new rule ended up turning the Booker into yet another instrument of American cultural hegemony.

Canadian literary icon P.K. Page dies: UPDATED

January 14, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

Canada has lost a literary giant. The renowned poet P.K. Page died today at the age of 93, according to the Victoria Times-Colonist. The “grand dame of Canadian letters,” Page came to Canada from her native England in 1919. A member companion of the Order of Canada, Page won the Governor General’s Award for her 1954 collection The Metal and the Flower, and she also won two National Magazine Awards, the B.C. Book Prizes Hubert Evans Award for Non-Fiction, the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award, and the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.

Her 2003 collection Planet Earth was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. (The book was also ranked ninth on Amazon.ca’s list of 50 Canadian Essential Books. The Griffin Poetry Prize website features an archived video of Page reading from that collection.

In a 2006 Times-Colonist article, Page displayed a defiant insouciance about her passing, saying that she hoped she died before humanity irrevocably ruined planet Earth:

“We absolutely seem to ignore [global warming], don’t we? I’m not too sure it isn’t too late,” she said.

“People are blind. It isn’t convenient for them to face it. It means they’d have to make vast changes in their lives … Civilizations have died from their own stupidity before. Look at the Easter Islanders. And we’ll do it. I may be gone before that, I hope. Oh God, I hope. I’m too old already.”

UPDATE: I had to share one anecdote from the Quill & Quire obituary, because I think it’s just about the coolest thing I’ve heard in ages. It involves Page and her one of her publishers, Tim Inkster of The Porcupine’s Quill.

Inkster last heard from Page on Wednesday afternoon, several hours before she was reported to have died. Apparently, an interior designer in Vancouver had used one of the poems from Coal and Roses in a custom-made wallpaper pattern without seeking permission from the author. To thank Inkster for resolving the issue, Page personally called the LCBO manager in a nearby town and had him hand deliver a six-pack of Heineken to Inkster’s home.

Honestly, the woman exuded class (and, apparently, good taste in beer).